The South-West monsoon, in a burst of fury, has left a trail of death and destruction in the central, northern, eastern and north-eastern parts of the country. Although the monsoon arrived on time, it initially progressed rather haltingly, raising fears of the year ending with a rainfall deficiency. But it gathered strength in July and has since wrought havoc in Maharashtra, Orissa, Punjab, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Assam and many other parts of the north-east and, more recently, in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Over 1400 lives have been lost, and close to 15 million people badly affected. At least 70,000 dwellings have been washed away in Bihar alone. Once again, the administration in most States has proved unequal to the task of coping with the monsoon’s onslaught. It is indeed disturbing that, despite the availability of a much more precise forecast from the Indian Meteorology Department and a vast media network that promptly reaches out to the people with cyclone and flood warnings, the administrative machinery in most States has not taken enough advance steps to ensure people’s safety and, worse, failed to carry out rescue and relief operations within an acceptable time frame. For instance in Assam and Bihar, there are reports of relief supplies not reaching thousands of marooned families in a large number of villages even a week after the floods.
Of course, the Defence forces have come to the aid of civil authorities in handling what has now come to be seen as a routine rescue and relief operation. Yet, whether in Assam, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, or parts of Andhra Pradesh, the relief and emergency supplies provided for the affected people have been woefully inadequate. About a third of the districts in the country have reported rainfall in excess of what they normally receive during this monsoon. The cycle of depressions and the rains they bring to the east coast has not ended. Averting the imminent danger of epidemics breaking out in these areas should now be the focus of government attention. The Centre should assist these States not only in reaching food and relief supplies and providing temporary shelters urgently but also in taking on the challenges to public health. The aftermath of the current bouts of rain is yet to be felt in all its ramifications. It is a pity that most States have failed to adopt advance measures and to put in place an effective monsoon preparedness plan. When even a metropolis like Mumbai fails the test, what can one say of cities such as Guwahati and Patna, leave alone the hundreds of villages that go through this trauma every year?